A Discovery of Witches: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Available on Goodreads
My rating: 4.5/5
Beware: Contains spoilers for A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night.
The final book in the All Souls trilogy makes for a bittersweet ending. Sweet, in that it is perfectly fitting, but bitter, in that it is, after all, an ending. I so enjoyed reading this final instalment, getting to see Diana and Matthew’s story come to completion, and getting the answers and resolutions I’ve been so desperate for since the story began.
Like Shadow of Night (SON) before it, The Book of Life (TBOL) picks up where its predecessor left off. Back from their learning expedition and not so safe refuge in the past, Diana and Matthew are in their present, at Sept-Tours, and they have reunited with the family and friends they left behind in A Discovery of Witches (ADOW), with some changes – one particularly significant. With threats looming, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages ensues once more, and the game is afoot as Diana, Matthew, and their allies, try to stay ahead of their enemies. Ultimately, they discover what the witches learned long ago, a truth with the power to change the world as they know it.
As they have in the previous books, Diana and Matthew fight. They fight for their right to love one another, to be a family, and, importantly, for truth and an understanding of themselves and their world. Through the challenges they face, the pair continue to adapt and grow. As a result of the changes they experience – not only in TBOL but in the previous books as well – the Diana and Matthew at the end of the book, and the series, are not only different from the ones at the beginning, but they are also more comfortable in themselves. I think the testament to Harkness’s talent isn’t that the two characters developed over the course of their journey, but that they did so believably. Their gradual development is evident throughout, from ADOW to TBOL, and I so enjoyed getting to see the characters come into their own.
Our lovely pair of course isn’t alone throughout their trials. Now back in the present the two are surrounded by family and friends, some familiar and some not so. One of my favourite parts of this series has been the underlying themes of family and friendship and support and alliance. TBOL has these in abundance as the de Clermonts, Bishops, and their allies prepare for, and head into, battle (of sorts). Even through the struggles faced – from without and within – the bonds between the characters are undeniable, including the ones that are only beginning to form, and there were some very touching moments in the book as a result. Diana, Matthew, and their extended family make for a lovable brood, and I missed them almost as soon as I’d read the final page. The villains of the series, not so much, though they did make for entertaining adversaries and helped to deliver a dramatic and enthralling ending.
The pacing of this book isn’t what I expected. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a TV and movie fan, or just because I’m impatient, but I expected a much faster pace than what the book offers. I just felt like there were so many threads that needed to be brought together in this final instalment and at times, especially as the chapters got on, I found myself worrying about whether there was enough time to do so, well. However, Deborah Harkness proved how wrong I was for ever worrying, by bringing the story to a satisfying close. Not only does she do that, but once I got to the end, I realised that the pacing I had considered slow actually adds a sense of deliberateness to the book. Harkness clearly told the tale she wanted to tell and included all the details and story aspects she meant to, whilst allowing the right amount of time in which to do so, so that the story flowed and didn’t feel rushed.
Whilst reading TBOL, I was again impressed by the details Harkness input about this world she imagined and created. In the previous books, it was the historical details that impressed me most, especially when it came to SON. Despite my limited knowledge on the subject, it was clear enough to me that Harkness knew what she was talking about. With our leading characters back in the present, history took a back seat in TBOL but there was still plenty to be impressed by. The imagery Harkness incites with her descriptions and how she continues to build upon our knowledge of this fascinating world and the dynamics within it, are wonderful. Of course this isn’t anything new. I’ve said before that Harkness created an impressive and absorbing world, and no doubt the details she included had something to do with that belief. I guess with this final book, knowing it would be the last in the series, I simply noticed and savoured more of the detail. Maybe I’ll pick up more of it in the previous books, in a future reread.
Bringing any story to a close and doing so in a way that people find satisfying isn’t easy to do. (Game of Thrones taught me that the hard way.) But I think Harkness totally succeeded in doing so. I expected big things from this final book, and Harkness delivered, revealing long-awaited answers and ending a story which starts with forbidden love, resistance, and fear, amidst so much hope and promise. TBOL is an intelligent, thought-provoking, and touching final instalment to a series that was much the same, and I enjoyed every single moment of reading it.